Century 21 Exposition official Ewen Dingwall closes controversial "Girls of the Galaxy" show on May 13, 1962.

  • By Paula Becker
  • Posted 2/16/2012
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 10008
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On May 13, 1962, Century 21 Exposition/Seattle World's Fair general manager Ewen Dingwall (1913-1996) closes the controversial "Girls of the Galaxy" attraction on Show Street, the fair's adult entertainment area. Dingwall's orders are that the show close by midnight on the basis that it violates the fair's minimum decency standards. "Girls of the Galaxy" has already endured one closure by the Seattle Board of Theater Supervisors, during which the show and venue have been revamped.  "Girls of the Galaxy" performers and managers, outraged, vow to fight Dingwall's decree. 

Seattleites first learned that "Girls of the Galaxy" would be a world's fair attraction in November 1961, when The Seattle Times announced that the show had been booked.  Director of concessions and amusements George Whitney (b. 1922) told the paper that "Girls of the Galaxy" would be "a sort of a candid-camera show." The newspaper reported that "About 20 models will pose in space-age costumes on a revolving stage as fairgoers take 'pin-up' photos with their own cameras or rented ones" (November 11, 1961). 

Show Street

"Girls of the Galaxy" was one of several adults-only attractions on Show Street, Seattle World's Fair's (mostly) adult entertainment area. George Whitney summed up Show Street as "Sometimes gaudy, sometimes naughty -- but a real show!" (The Seattle Times, March 21, 1962). 

Show Street's largest, most polished, least dodgy adult venue was Gracie Hansen's (1922-1985) Paradise International club. Hansen's show, "A Night In Paradise," a Las Vegas style revue directed by leading burlesque showman Barry Ashton, was well received.  Another attraction, "'Peep' Backstage U.S.A.," promised a dressing room view of showgirls showering and changing costumes, but disgruntled patrons complained that the scantily-clad performers passed much of the show knitting, reading, and writing letters. "Peep" was created and directed by Leroy Prinz (1895-1983), a former dancer turned Hollywood choreographer.  "Les Poupees des Paris," a nude marionette show produced by brothers Sid (b. 1929) and Marty (b. 1937) Krofft, was popular and apparently off the censorship radar, due to its wooden showgirls.  After the fair, the Kroffts found fame in the world of Saturday morning children's television.

Other Show Street attractions changed somewhat over the fair's six-month run. They included performances for children (these shared a venue with the naughty puppets), an Indian Village, a salmon barbeque restaurant, a Gay Nineties review, and an adult-themed wax museum, among others.

Board of Theater Supervisors

The World's Fair Corporation invited the Board of Theater Supervisors, whose members served at the appointment of Seattle Mayor Gordon Clinton (1920-2011), to meet with Director of Concessions and Amusements George Whitney beginning in October 1961. The Board of Theater Supervisors then appointed a special seven-member committee to set and uphold decency standards and preview all adults-only attractions on Show Street. The committee also performed spot checks on these attractions during the fair.

On December 1, 1961, the committee sent Whitney a letter spelling out their standards:

"1. The basic authority to determine the quality of entertainment is set forth in the City of Seattle Ordinance No. 83099 which prescribes in general, that entertainment shall be of a nature so as not to be obscene, indecent or immoral, or which tends to corrupt morals or is offensive to the moral sense.

"2. Any shows or performances involving female personnel shall have no body motions of a suggestive nature or dancing in an obscene or immoral manner.

"3. No blue dialogue or conversation or discourse or songs of an obscene nature will be allowed.

"4. Advertising of any type or nature publicizing entertainment at the World's Fair shall conform to the standards set forth above" (Seattle Board of Supervisor Minutes, December 1, 1961)."

Cabaret owners outside the fairgrounds were keen to prevent fair attractions from enjoying less rigorous definitions of obscenity than cabarets in general were expected to observe.  A double standard that favored fairground adult entertainment would, such owners feared, hurt their business.

Strictly Above Board

On April 11, 1962, the Seattle City Council approved Ordinance No. 91077 making cabarets at Century 21 Exposition under the review and approval of the Board of Theater Supervisors. The ordinance specifically declared to be unlawful "any entertainment or exhibition therein which is lewd, vulgar, immoral or obscene or which has not been reviewed and approved by the Board of Theater Supervisors" (Ordinance No. 91077...).  

At the Board of Theater Supervisors monthly meeting on April 13, 1962, World's Fair Committee member George Spray reported that he had reviewed "Girls of the Galaxy" on the committee's behalf. The show he saw featured semi-nude women in fixed poses. The women held their poses for three minutes, for a total of five different tableaux. Spray told the board that the women (or girls, as meeting minutes describes the performers) promised there would be no "bumps or grinds" (...Minutes). The complete Board of Theater Supervisors planned to preview the show the following Tuesday. 

The board agreed that anyone performing in an adult-themed Show Street attraction must be at least 21. Audience members also had to be at least 21, with the exception of those 18 to 20 years old who were accompanied by a parent.

Strike One

On April 25, 1962, fair management and the Seattle police department shut "Girls of the Galaxy" down after the Board of Theater Supervisors objected to a female performer behind a glass window who beckoned passers-by into the venue.  Board member John A. Peluso told The Seattle Times that her motions generated "crude remarks in poor taste among male spectators outside. He said the remarks were made in the presence of young children and unescorted young girls passing through the area" (April 24, 1962). 

Century 21 Exposition General Manager Ewen Dingwall told the newspaper, "The show will have to get up to the standards of the fair or stay closed." George Whitney echoed Dingwall several days later, telling The Seattle Times, "There will be no selling of sex at this fair. Nudity can be only incidental to the entertainment provided" (April 28, 1962). 

Come Again?

The show remained closed until May 9, 1962. During the closure the performance venue was extensively remodeled, including the removal of the window behind which the objectionable come-on ballyhoo had taken place. The show was revamped to include Jose Duarte (billed as The Man With A Million Voices) as Master of Ceremonies.  "Girls" was to perform hourly between 6:30 and 11:30 each evening.

"Girls of the Galaxy" reopened, but Dingwall ordered it to close again by midnight on May 13, 1962. Perhaps in response to the copious newspaper coverage the controversial attraction was enjoying, "Girls" drew a record 1,200 patrons that day (which was also Mother's Day). "Girls of the Galaxy" performers vowed to defy the closure, and Art Townsend (whose wife Mareissa managed the show) spent the night in the venue so that fair management would not be able to padlock the door.

Girls Gone Wild

Townsend's sleepover succeeded. Fair management posted a security guard at the venue's door the next morning, but soon withdrew him while consulting legal councel.  Art and Mareissa Townsend held firm, and the cast vowed to perform despite the closure.

Century 21 security guards confiscated their employee passes, but the cast paid their own way onto the grounds. The cast arrived on Show Street in the late afternoon to find a growing crowd of hopeful customers, but fair officials quickly closed the venue's ticket office.  The cast pressed on.

The Seattle Times described the scene:

"About 5 o'clock the fair switched off the theater lights from a control panel next door.  Two Century 21 trucks were parked across the theater entrance. Using battery-powered lamps, candles, and flashlights, the cast prepared to perform. ... Bob Thedens, electrician, found a light connection and the cast gave a full performance to an empty house. Jose Duarte, master of ceremonies, went outside the theater to eat -- and was arrested about 9:30 when he tried to crash the wall of security officers ... . At 9:45 o'clock, the showgirls and other cast members went home -- leaving only the skeleton crew to maintain the 24-hour occupancy of the theater for legal purposes.  Mrs. Mareissa Townsend, manager, said the show will go on tonight, customers or not" (May 15, 1962).

During the fracas one cast member, an exotic dancer billed as Fantasia, was photographed slithering underneath a truck, intent on making it to the stage door.  She was rebuffed. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer's coverage of the "Girls" feisty show-must-go-on-clothes-will-come-off performance indicated that reporters, at least, were allowed to watch: "Two dozen newsmen and show personnel (were) on hand for dancer Patty Herman's number, 'Around The World In Sexty Minutes" (May 15, 1962).

Nowhere Lower to Go?

Despite Mareissa Townsend's vow, "Girls" gave no more performances during the closure. Within the next few days, Townsend and Dingwall brokered a deal: Several (presumably more entertaining) acts would be added, performers would wear thin brassieres rather than appearing topless, and the show's name would be changed.  Dingwall later dropped the last demand, and the expanded (but better veiled) "Girls of the Galaxy" was back in business on May 21, 1962. 

Asked to view the new version a few days later, fair Performing Arts Director Harold Shaw told Dingwall, "I  believe that we are still not clear in our minds as to what obligations we are to assume in giving surveillance to Girls of the Galaxy. If it is to be sure that the show keeps at its current standard and doesn't go any lower, I don't believe there is a problem because I don't think they can go any lower" (Shaw to Dingwall).

Meanwhile "Girls" patron Paul S. Kessler wrote to Dingwall expressing his reaction to the show:

"Up until last night, I thought you were an unfair 'stinker' for your actions against the 'Girls of the Galaxy' show. Last night four of us saw the show.  We now think you did the right thing in closing the show.  In fact we now wonder why you didn't close it for good. In 30 years of going to 'adult' shows, I have never seen a worse show.

"1. Dirty building.

"2. Poor sound.

"3. Poor seating.

"4. Last, but not least, the show itself 'stunk'" (Kessler to Dingwall).

Goodbye, Girls

With agreed-upon changes in place, the "Girls" were back in business, but not entirely out of the woods. In June 1962, unauthorized changes to the performance and "blue" (i.e. obscene or suggestive) language in master of ceremonies Jose Duarte's remarks again brought the show under the eye of the Board of Theater Supervisors.  "Peep Backstage U.S.A." was also under criticism from the board during this period.

In July, scandalized World's Fair security officers noted that "Girls" performers -- possibly prompted by warm weather -- "stood in the doorway in an all-but-naked situation," as reported by The Seattle Times under the headline "Galaxy Epidermis Causes Overheating" (July 26, 1962). 

Dingwall threatened closure. "Girls" performers re-clothed, at least while in full view.

Crowds waned. In early August, "Girls" hired 25-year-old Spokane resident John Ennest to drum up business by breathing fire. The Seattle Times reported, "Billed as 'Allie Khay the Human Volcano,' Ennest puts on his show several times each day and evening to help build up a crowd for 'Girls of the Galaxy'" (August 9, 1962).

Despite the fiery new come-on, "Girls of the Galaxy" closed for financial reasons on August 23, 1962.

Sources: Paula Becker and Alan J. Stein, The Future Remembered: The 1962 Seattle World's Fair And Its Legacy (Seattle: Seattle Center Foundation, 2011); Official Guide Book Seattle World's Fair 1962 (Seattle: Acme Publications, 1962); Stanton H. Patty, "Girls of Galaxy Booked for Fair," The Seattle Times, November 11, 1961, p. 12; "Show Street Ranges From Girls To Autos," Ibid., March 21, 1962, p. 13; "Closing Of Show At Fair 'Not Publicity'," Ibid., April 26, 1962, p. 2; "Substantial Changes Due In Girl Show," Ibid., April 28, 1962, p. 2; "New Show At Galaxy Approved," Ibid., May 8, 1962, p. 2; "Galaxy Girls Will Reopen In New Show," Ibid., May 9, 1962, p. 16; "Padlocking of Galaxy Feared," Ibid., May 14, 1962, p. 3; "Girls Of Galaxy Dispute Growing," Ibid., May 14, 1962, p. 2; "Galaxy May Stage Act In Court," Ibid., May 15, 1962, p. 2; "Midwest Children's Letters Protest Nudity At Fair," Ibid., May 15, 1962, p. 2; "Show Must Go On, They Say," Ibid., May 15, 1962, p. 3; "Galaxy To Present New Show Plans To Fair Tonight," Ibid., May 16, 1962, p. 2; "Galaxy Show Will Reopen Monday Night," Ibid., May 19, 1962, p. 2; "Galaxy Will Keep Its Name," Ibid., May 22, 1962, p. 1; "Galaxy Epidermis Causes Overheating," Ibid., July 26, 1962, p. 2; "Fort Lewis Soldier Sings At Fair," Ibid., July 27, 1962, p. 2; "Fire Eater Hungry," Ibid., August 9, 1962, p. 47; "Fair's Girls Of Galaxy Show Closes," Ibid., August 24, 1962, p. 2; "Revitalized Show Street Is Doing Better," Ibid., September 9, 1962, p. 5; Orman Vertrees, "Fair Show Defies Ban But Guards Black Out Galaxy Girls," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 15, 1962, p. 7;  Paul S. Kessler to Ewen Dingwall, May 26, 1962, and Harold Shaw to E. C. Dingwall, May 30, 1962, Ewen C. Dingwall papers, University of Washington Special Collections Accession 420-001, Box 8, Folder "Show Street -- Girls Of The Galaxy," University of Washington Libraries, Seattle; Seattle City Council Ordinance No. 91077, "An ordinance relating to cabarets operated by Century 21 licensees or concessionaires at the Seattle World's Fair -- Century 21 Exposition and amending Ordinance 90953 to provide that entertainments an exhibitions in such cabarets shall be subject to review and approval thereof by the Board of Theater Supervisors," approved April 11, 1962; Seattle Board of Theater Supervisors Annual Report, October 30, 1962, City Clerk records (1802-ES), Board of Theater Supervisors, Box 2, Folder 5, Seattle Municipal Archives; Seattle Board of Theater Supervisors Minutes, 1961-1962, City Clerk records (1802-ES), Board of Theater Supervisors, Box 2, Folder 10, Seattle Municipal Archives.

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